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Belgium

Belgium - US Consular Information Sheet
October 03, 2008
COUNTRY DESCRIPTION:
Belgium is a highly developed and stable democracy with a modern economy. Tourist facilities are widely available.
Read the Department of State Background N
tes on Belgium for additional information.
ENTRY/EXIT REQUIREMENTS: Belgium is a party to the Schengen agreement. As such, U.S. citizens may enter Belgium for up to 90 days for tourist or business purposes without a visa. The passport should be valid for at least three months beyond the period of stay. Sufficient funds and a return airline ticket are required. For further details about travel into and within Schengen countries, please see our fact sheet. For further information concerning entry requirements, contact the Embassy of Belgium at 3330 Garfield Street NW, Washington, DC 20008, telephone (202) 333-6900; or one of the Belgian Consulates General in Atlanta, Los Angeles, or New York.Visit the Belgian Embassy web site at http://www.diplobel.org/usa for the most current visa information.
Belgian law requires that everyone carry some form of official identification at all times, which must be displayed upon request to any Belgian police official. A U.S. passport suffices for these purposes.
See the section on Special Circumstances for information on new business visitor and employee registration requirements.
Information about dual nationality or the prevention of international child abduction can be found on our web site. For further information about customs regulations, please read our Customs Information sheet.
SAFETY AND SECURITY: Belgium remains largely free of terrorist incidents. Belgian law enforcement and security officials, in close cooperation with neighboring countries, maintain a solid anti-terrorism effort and a peaceful environment for tourists and business. However, like other countries that are members of the Schengen Agreement on free cross-border movement, Belgium’s open borders with its European neighbors allow the possibility for terrorist groups to enter/exit the country with anonymity.
Prior police approval is required for public demonstrations in Belgium, and police oversight is routinely provided to ensure adequate security for participants and passers-by. Nonetheless, situations may develop that could pose a threat to public safety. U.S. citizens are advised to avoid areas where public demonstrations are taking place.
For the latest security information, Americans traveling abroad should regularly monitor the Department of State, Bureau of Consular Affairs’ web site at http://travel.state.gov, where the current Travel Warnings and Travel Alerts, as well as the Worldwide Caution, can be found.
Up-to-date information on safety and security can also be obtained by calling 1-888-407-4747 toll free in the U.S. and Canada, or for callers outside the U.S. and Canada, a regular toll-line at 1-202-501-4444. These numbers are available from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Eastern Time, Monday through Friday (except U.S. federal holidays).
The Department of State urges American citizens to take responsibility for their own personal security while traveling overseas. For general information about appropriate measures travelers can take to protect themselves in an overseas environment, see the Department of State’s pamphlet A Safe Trip Abroad.
CRIME: Belgium remains relatively free of violent crime, but low-level street crime is common. Visitors should always be watchful and aware of their surroundings, however, because muggings, purse snatchings, and pickpocketing occur frequently, particularly in the major cities. Transportation hubs like the Metro (subway) and train stations are also frequented by thieves who take advantage of disoriented travelers. In Brussels, pickpocketing, purse snatching, and theft of light luggage and laptops are common at the three major train stations -- the North Station (Noordstation or Gare du Nord), the Central Station (Centraal Station or Gare Central) and especially at the South Station (Zuidstation or Gare du Midi). The latter is a primary international train hub, and travelers are advised to pay very close attention to their personal belongings when in the station. Common ploys are to distract the victim by spraying shaving cream or another substance on his or her back or asking for directions while an accomplice steals the luggage. It is a good idea to remain in physical contact with hand luggage at all times, and not to place carry-on luggage on overhead racks in trains.
Another growing problem, especially in Brussels, is theft from vehicles, both moving and parked. Do not leave valuables in plain sight where a thief may spot them. Thieves will sometimes position themselves at stop lights to scan for valuables in stopped cars. If they see a purse or other valuable item they break the window and steal the item before the victim can even react. Expensive car stereos and GPS navigational devices left in plain sight are often stolen from parked cars. Always drive with windows up and doors locked.
Travelers to Brussels should be aware that small groups of young men sometimes prey on unwary tourists, usually at night and often in Metro stations. Items such as expensive mobile phones and MP3 players are often the target. Travelers should carry only a minimum amount of cash, credit cards, and personal identification. Wearing expensive jewelry and watches is discouraged.
INFORMATION FOR VICTIMS OF CRIME: The loss or theft abroad of a U.S. passport should be reported immediately to the local police and the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate. If you are the victim of a crime while overseas, in addition to reporting to local police, please contact the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate for assistance. The Embassy/Consulate staff can, for example, assist you to find appropriate medical care, contact family members or friends and explain how funds could be transferred. Although the investigation and prosecution of the crime is solely the responsibility of local authorities, consular officers can help you to understand the local criminal justice process and to find an attorney if needed. See our information on Victims of Crime.
MEDICAL FACILITIES AND HEALTH INFORMATION: Good medical facilities are widely available in Belgium. The large university hospitals can handle almost every medical problem. Hospitals in Brussels and Flemish-speaking Flanders will probably have English-speaking staff. Hospitals in French-speaking Wallonia may not have staff members who are fluent in English, however. The Embassy Consular Section maintains a list of English-speaking doctors, which can be found on the Embassy web site at http://brussels.usembassy.gov/medical_facilities.html.
Information on vaccinations and other health precautions, such as safe food and water precautions and insect bite protection, may be obtained from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s hotline for international travelers at 1-877-FYI-TRIP (1-877-394-8747) or via the CDC’s web site at http://wwwn.cdc.gov/travel/default.aspx. For information about outbreaks of infectious diseases abroad consult the World Health Organization’s (WHO) web site at http://www.who.int/en. Further health information for travelers is available at http://www.who.int/ith/en.
MEDICAL INSURANCE: The Department of State strongly urges Americans to consult with their medical insurance company prior to traveling abroad to confirm whether their policy applies overseas and whether it will cover emergency expenses such as a medical evacuation. Please see our information on medical insurance overseas.
TRAFFIC SAFETY AND ROAD CONDITIONS: While in a foreign country, U.S. citizens may encounter road conditions that differ significantly from those in the United States. The information below concerning Belgium is provided for general reference only, and may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance.
Belgian urban highways are generally well built and maintained with extensive lighting systems, but rain and fog often reduce visibility. Rural roads are less likely to be illuminated at night. Belgian rules for right-of-way differ from those in the U.S., and new drivers should thoroughly understand these rules before driving in Belgium. For instance, traffic coming from the right generally has priority at uncontrolled intersections and roundabouts, even if coming from a smaller street. The maximum speed limit on Belgian highways is 120 kilometers (72 miles) per hour, but is not always posted except at Belgium’s borders and on roads leaving major airports. The maximum speed in urban areas is normally 50 km (30 miles) per hour. While Belgian authorities strictly enforce speed limits, many Belgians still drive significantly faster than the posted limit. Claims of ignorance may not prevent a significant fine for speeding, which can also lead to the vehicle’s being impounded if the driver is unable to pay the fine on the spot. Belgian police also conduct breath analysis checks for alcohol use, particularly at night and during major holidays.
Roadside assistance and information on road conditions are available in English from Touring Mobilis, tel: 0900 10280. Belgian police will also provide information on road conditions, tel: 02-642-6666. Emergency services are efficient and responsive. By phone within Belgium, for police emergencies dial 101 and for all other emergencies,112.

Please refer to our Road Safety page for more information. Visit the website of Belgium’s national tourist office at http://www.visitbelgium.com/.
AVIATION SAFETY OVERSIGHT: The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has assessed the Government of Belgium’s Civil Aviation Authority as being in compliance with International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) aviation safety standards for oversight of Belgium’s air carrier operations. For more information, travelers may visit the FAA’s web site at http://www.faa.gov/safety/programs_initiatives/oversight/iasa
SPECIAL CIRCUMSTANCES: While most forms of monetary transactions are available (cash, credit cards), U.S. money orders cannot be negotiated in Belgium. Personal checks may only be cleared through a bank at which a person holds an account and clearance can take from two to four weeks. Banks and exchange facilities may refuse U.S. dollar denominations of $50 and $100 if they are not equipped with devices to identify counterfeit currency. Automated Teller Machines (ATMs) are widespread in Belgium and accept most U.S. ATM cards to withdraw funds. Travelers seeking to purchase Euros are more likely to find a more favorable exchange rate at banks than at money exchange facilities located at tourist locations, train stations, and airports. Please see our Customs Information.
Non-EU citizens visiting Belgium and staying in a private residence are required by Belgian law to register with local Commune authorities within three days of their arrival. Any change in visa or resident status must also be requested through Commune authorities and must be completed prior to the expiration of the current status. Given the requirements to change status in Belgium, it is nearly impossible to do so within the 90 days permitted to remain in Belgium without a visa under the Visa Waiver Program.
BUSINESS VISITOR AND EMPLOYEE REGISTRATION REQUIREMENT: Since April 1, 2007 non-Belgian employers and self-employed persons or their employees who carry out short term assignments in Belgium must declare these activities in advance.
This mandatory "Limosa" declaration applies to: (1) Employees and apprentices, who come to Belgium to execute certain temporary work and who, because of the nature of their short term assignment, are not subject to the Belgian social security system; (2) Self-employed people and self-employed apprentices who come to work in Belgium temporarily, irrespective of whether they are subject to the Belgian social security system.
Some exceptions to this general obligation exist. Certain persons may be exempted, especially for short-term assignments. For more information about the Limosa declaration, visit http://www.limosa.be.
For more information about working in Belgium, please see http://www.employment.belgium.be/home.aspx.
CRIMINAL PENALTIES: While in a foreign country, a U.S. citizen is subject to that country's laws and regulations, which sometimes differ significantly from those in the United States and may not afford the protections available to the individual under U.S. law. Penalties for breaking the law can be more severe than in the United States for similar offenses. Persons violating Belgian laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested or imprisoned. Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking in illegal drugs in Belgium are severe, and convicted offenders can expect long jail sentences and heavy fines. Engaging in sexual conduct with children or using or disseminating child pornography in a foreign country is a crime, prosecutable in the United States. Please see our information on Criminal Penalties.

CHILDREN'S ISSUES: For information see our Office of Children’s Issues web pages on intercountry adoption and international parental child abduction.

REGISTRATION / EMBASSY LOCATION: Americans living or traveling in Belgium are encouraged to register with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate through the State Department’s travel registration web site so that they can obtain updated information on travel and security within Belgium. Americans without Internet access may register directly with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate. By registering, American citizens make it easier for the Embassy or Consulate to contact them in case of emergency. The U.S. Embassy in Brussels is located at 25 Boulevard du Regent. The telephone number from the U.S. is 011-32-2-508-2111. Within Belgium, the telephone number is 02-508-2111. The Embassy’s fax number is 02-511-2725. The Consular Section’s fax number is 02-513-0409. The American Citizen Services Unit of the Consular Section is open from 1:30 to 3:30 p.m. Monday through Friday, except for American and Belgian holidays. Further information can be obtained at the Embassy’s web site at http://belgium.usembassy.gov/
* * *
This replaces the Country Specific Information for Belgium dated March 13, 2008, to update sections on Entry/Exit Requirements.

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

Date: Wed, 6 May 2020 16:00:35 +0200 (METDST)

Brussels, May 6, 2020 (AFP) - Belgium retailers closed by the coronavirus epidemic will reopen to shoppers from Monday under strict social distancing rules, Prime Minister Sophie Wilmes said.   Customers will be advised to remain apart and to wear masks when the stores open on May 11 but, in their private lives, Belgians will be allowed to enjoy a little more social life from Sunday.   From then, Wilmes said, households will be allowed to invite over a group of up to four friends or relatives, on condition that it is always the same four people.   Sunday is Mother's Day in Belgium, but Wilmes said the decision had not been made for that reason, rather because "physical distancing from our loved ones has become unbearable".   With one of the highest per capita death rates in the world from the virus, Belgium began lifting a strict lockdown in stages this week.

Some businesses whose staff are not in contact with the public have already re-started work, but schools, restaurants and bars will remain closed a while longer.   And on public transport, passengers have been instructed to wear protective face masks of the kind that have become ubiquitous on the streets of Brussels.   When the shops do open they must ensure there's enough space for each client to occupy 10 square metres (yards) and to remain 1.5 metres away from staff.   Belgium's schools may be see a gradual return from May 18, but decisions will be made by the linguistic communities -- French, Dutch and German -- that manage them.   More than 8,300 people from a population of 11.5 million have died in the epidemic, but the daily toll is falling along with new admissions to hospitals, which were hard pressed but not overwhelmed.
Date: Tue, 31 Mar 2020 16:40:42 +0200 (METDST)

Brussels, March 31, 2020 (AFP) - A 12-year-old girl confirmed infected with COVID-19 has died in Belgium, health officials said Tuesday.   Fatality from the virus at such a young age "is a very rare occurrence," said government spokesman Dr Emmanuel Andre, adding that her death "shook us".   The girl had a fever for three days before her death, and tested positive for COVID-19, said another spokesman, Steven Van Gucht.   The government gave no other details, notably not saying whether she had any other underlying health problems.

The girl's school is located in the city of Ghent, whose mayor Mathias De Clercq issued a statement about the "sad news", expressing condolences to the girl's family.    It added that the girl, whom he did not name, had not been at the school since March 13, just before a nationwide shutdown.   It was the first death of a child in the coronavirus crisis in Belgium, which has now recorded 705 deaths according to the latest official toll.   Last week, France reported the death of a 16-year-old girl from coronavirus in the greater Paris region.   Although serious COVID-19 infections are uncommon among the young, some exceptional cases have been taken to hospital intensive-care wards, as US health authorities have pointed out.

Belgium's toll on Tuesday represented a jump of nearly 200 fatalities from that given the previous day, which stood at 513.   It comprised 98 deaths recorded in the preceding 24-hour period, plus another 94 deaths over previous days that had not been counted in the national tally, Andre said.   The small EU country, with a population of 11.4 million, now has 12,775 cases of persons tested positive for COVID-19, of whom 4,920 have been hospitalised, including 1,021 in intensive care.   Hospitals in Brussels, the Dutch-speaking province of Limburg and the surroundings of Charleroi and Mons are now confronted with "a more complicated situation" as beds fill up, Andre said.
Date: Mon, 30 Mar 2020 12:35:06 +0200 (METDST)

Brussels, March 30, 2020 (AFP) - Belgium's death toll from the novel coronavirus passed the 500 mark Monday, with almost 12,000 cases detected since the start of the epidemic.   Health authorities in the country of 11.4 million said 513 COVID-19 deaths had been recorded and 11,899 cases confirmed by laboratory tests.

But officials said the rise in admissions to hospital and to intensive care units had slowed slightly over the previous 24 hours.   "We're not at the peak, but at what we call the inflection point -- that means the force of the epidemic is beginning to diminish thanks to the efforts we have all made over the last two weeks," said Emmanuel Andre, spokesman for government's epidemic team.   "It is extremely important to keep up these efforts -- just because the curve is softening slightly today, it doesn't mean it won't get worse if we let up our efforts."

On Friday, Belgium extended lockdown measures by two weeks to April 18 to slow the spread of the virus.   Schools, restaurants and most shops are closed, entry to supermarkets is restricted to allow room for social distancing and people have been told to work from home.

Outdoor sports activities and walks outside are still allowed, but only in small groups, with a friend or with family members living under the same roof.    Prime Minister Sophie Wilmes said the lockdown could be extended by another two weeks to May 3 if the spread of the virus demanded it.
Date: Fri, 27 Mar 2020 19:25:31 +0100 (MET)

Brussels, March 27, 2020 (AFP) - Belgium on Friday extended its general lockdown to slow the spread of the coronavirus by two weeks to April 18.   The decision, confirmed by top officials, extended a confinement that began on March 18 until the end of the country's Easter holiday break, with schools, restaurants and most shops to remain closed.   Prime Minister Sophie Wilmes said the period could be extended by another two weeks to May 3 if the spread of the virus demanded it.   "Our efforts are only beginning and to ease up now would have catastrophic consequences," she told a media briefing.   Outdoor sports activities and walks outside are still allowed, but only in small groups, with a friend or with family members living under the same roof.

In theory, travelling for work can only be done with a certificate from the employer.    Supermarkets in Belgium remain open, but shoppers are only admitted if there is enough space for one person per 10 square metres, and they must not stay for more than 30 minutes.   Belgium, a country of 11.4 million people, has recorded 7,284 cases of the novel coronavirus strain, and 289 deaths.    The extension in Belgium follows a similar decision in neighbouring France where the lockdown rules are stricter.   Europe is grappling with the global outbreak that has killed more than 10,000 people on the continent, mostly in Italy and Spain.
Date: Fri, 27 Mar 2020 17:41:36 +0100 (MET)

Brussels, March 27, 2020 (AFP) - A pet cat has been infected with the novel coronavirus in Belgium after being contaminated by its owner, Belgian health authorities said Friday.   Cases of contamination of pets are rare and authorities ruled out any risk of contamination to humans from home animals.   The reports follows similar cases in Hong Kong where two dogs tested positive for COVID-19 during a screening campaign carried out on 17 dogs and eight cats living in contact with people carrying the virus.

In Belgium, the discovery was made by researchers at the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine in Liege.   This is "an isolated case" which can occur after "close contact between animals and infected  humans", said Doctor Emmanuel Andre, a government agency spokesman on the pandemic.    The virus can be transmitted from humans to animals but "there is no reason to think that animals can be vectors of the epidemic in our society", he said.

In Hong Kong, "the dogs showed no symptoms", while in Belgium "the cat was suffering from transitory respiratory and digestive problems", said the Belgian food safety agency AFSCA in a statement.    "So far, there is no evidence that a domestic animal can transmit the virus to humans or other pets", the public authority said.

As a precautionary measure, it is "strongly recommended" to apply standard rules of hygiene when dealing with pets: "avoid close contact with pets... wash your hands after handling any animal, do not let the animal lick your face."   The aim is to prevent the transmission of the virus to the animal and to prevent the animal itself from becoming a carrier of the virus.
More ...

World Travel News Headlines

Date: Tue, 26 May 2020 09:15:57 +0200 (METDST)

Riyadh, May 26, 2020 (AFP) - Saudi Arabia will end its nationwide coronavirus curfew from June 21, except in the holy city of Mecca, the interior ministry said Tuesday, after more than two months of stringent curbs.   Prayers will also be allowed to resume in all mosques outside Mecca from May 31, the ministry said in a series of measures announced on the official Saudi Press Agency.   The kingdom, which has reported the highest number of virus cases in the Gulf, imposed a full nationwide curfew during Eid al-Fitr, the Muslim holiday that marks the end of the fasting month of Ramadan.

The ministry said it will begin easing restrictions in a phased manner this week, with the curfew relaxed between 6 am and 3 pm between Thursday and Saturday.   From Sunday until June 20, the curfew will be further eased until 8 pm, the ministry added.   The kingdom will lift the lockdown entirely from June 21.   "Starting from Thursday, the kingdom will enter a new phase (in dealing with the pandemic) and will gradually return to normal based on the rules of social distancing," Health Minister Tawfiq Al-Rabiah said on Monday.   Saudi Arabia has reported around 75,000 coronavirus infections and some 400 deaths from COVID-19.

In March, Saudi Arabia suspended the year-round "umrah" pilgrimage over fears of the disease spreading in Islam's holiest cities.   That suspension will remain in place, the interior ministry said.   Authorities are yet to announce whether they will proceed with this year's hajj -- scheduled for late July -- but they have urged Muslims to temporarily defer preparations for the annual pilgrimage.   Last year, some 2.5 million faithful travelled to Saudi Arabia from around the world to participate in the hajj, which Muslims are obliged to perform at least once during their lifetime.
Date: Tue, 26 May 2020 05:52:24 +0200 (METDST)

Santiago, May 26, 2020 (AFP) - Chile registered a new high for coronavirus cases on Monday, with nearly 5,000 infections in 24 hours, including two ministers in President Sebastian Pinera's government.   Health authorities announced 4,895 new infections in the South American country and 43 deaths.

Public Works Minister Alfredo Moreno and Energy Minister Juan Carlos Jobet said they were among those with the disease.   "I have been informed that the COVID-19 test I had a few days ago was positive," Moreno said on Twitter, adding that he had no symptoms so far.   The 63-year-old minister had placed himself in quarantine after one of his staff tested positive.  Jobet also tested positive after starting to quarantine preventatively on Saturday, "when he experienced mild symptoms, which could be associated with the disease," a statement from the Energy Ministry said.

The 44-year-old minister "has had no direct contact with President Sebastian Pinera or other cabinet members in recent days," the statement said, without specifying how he became infected.   Three other ministers, who had self-quarantined after being in contact with infected people, all tested negative and resumed work.

Chile suffered a surge in infections last week, prompting the government to order the lockdown of Santiago.   The capital is the main focus of the pandemic in Chile, with 90 percent of the country's 74,000 cases.   Last week, the Senate was closed after three senators tested positive for the coronavirus. Sessions were held by video conference.
Date: Tue, 26 May 2020 01:15:01 +0200 (METDST)

Quito, May 25, 2020 (AFP) - Demonstrators defied coronavirus restrictions to march in cities across Ecuador on Monday in protest against President Lenin Moreno's drastic economic measures to tackle the crisis.   Moreno last week announced public spending cuts including the closure of state companies and embassies around the world, but trade unions Monday said workers were paying a disproportionate price compared to Ecuador's elite.   "This protest is because the government is firing workers to avoid making the rich pay," Mecias Tatamuez, head of the county's largest union, the Unitary Front of Workers (FUT), told reporters at a march in Quito.

Around 2,000 people marched in the capital, waving flags and banners and shouting anti-government slogans.   The protesters wore masks and respected distancing measures recommended against the spread of the coronavirus that has caused at least 3,200 deaths in the country, making it South America's worst hit nation per capita. Authorities say more than 2,000 further deaths are likely linked to the virus.

Demonstrations took place in several other cities, including Guayaquil, the epicentre of Ecuador's health crisis, where union leaders said hundreds marched through the city.   Moreno ordered the closure of Ecuadoran embassies, a reduction in diplomatic staff and scrapped seven state companies as part of measures designed to save some $4 billion.    He also announced the liquidation of the TAME airline, which has lost more than $400 million over the last five years.

The government says the pandemic has so far cost the economy at least $8 billion.   Public sector working hours have been cut by 25 percent, with an accompanying 16 percent pay cut.   Moreno said on Sunday that 150,000 people had lost their jobs because of the coronavirus.   Ecuador was struggling economically before the pandemic hit, due to high debt and its dependence on oil.   The IMF predicts that the economy will shrink by 6.3 percent this year, the sharpest drop of any country in South America.
Date: Mon, 25 May 2020 22:20:46 +0200 (METDST)

Dublin, May 25, 2020 (AFP) - Ireland recorded no new deaths from the coronavirus on Monday for the first time since March 21.   Prime Minister Leo Varadkar called it a "significant milestone", adding on Twitter: "This is a day of hope. We will prevail."

The announcement came one week after Ireland, which has suffered 1,606 deaths from 24,698 infections, began to ease lockdown measures that had been in place for nearly two months.   Ireland entered lockdown in late March, recording a peak of 77 deaths on a single day on April 20.   "In the last 24 hours we didn't have any deaths notified to us," chief medical officer Tony Holohan said at a daily press briefing.   He warned that the zero figure could be a result of a lag in reporting of deaths over the weekend, but he added: "It's part of the continued trend that we've seen in (the) reduction in the total number of deaths."

Ireland has announced a five-step plan to reopen the nation by August and took the first steps last Monday -- allowing outdoor employees to return to work, some shops to reopen and the resumption of  activities such as golf and tennis.   While the news of no fresh deaths was greeted as progress, officials remain concerned there will be a "second wave" as the lockdown is loosened.   "The number of new cases and reported deaths over the past week indicates that we have suppressed COVID-19 as a country," Holohan added in a statement.   "It will take another week to see any effect on disease incidence that might arise from the easing of measures."
Date: Mon, 25 May 2020 21:59:40 +0200 (METDST)

Luxembourg, May 25, 2020 (AFP) - Luxembourg will ease its coronavirus restrictions on Wednesday, reopening cafes and restaurants and allowing civil and religious ceremonies under strict conditions, the government announced.   The tiny country has so far registered only 3,993 COVID-19 cases, of which 110 have been fatal. Four people are in intensive care and shops were closed on March 18 to slow the spread of the new coronavirus.

Prime Minister Xavier Bettel told a news conference on Monday that eateries could reopen terraces with a maximum of four people at a single table.   Indoor dining in cafes and restaurants will resume on Friday, he said, with social distancing of 1.5 metres (five feet) between groups.   Marriages and funerals will also be allowed if the attendees wore face masks and kept two metres distance from each other.   Bettel however said cafes and restaurants would have to close at midnight.

Francois Koepp, the general secretary of the Horeca federation grouping hotels, restaurants and cafes, welcomed the announcement, saying the sector had "greatly suffered from the confinement".   He said it provided employment to some 21,000 people in this nation of 620,000 inhabitants.   Cinema theatres and gyms will open at the end of the week but children's parks will remain closed.   The government has pledged to give every citizen over 16 a voucher worth 50 euros ( $54) to spend in hotels to provide a boost to the sector.   The vouchers will also be given to some 200,000 cross border workers from Belgium, France and Germany.
Date: Mon, 25 May 2020 20:36:16 +0200 (METDST)

Prague, May 25, 2020 (AFP) - The Czech Republic and Slovakia will reopen their border this week for those travelling to the other country for up to 48 hours, Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis said Monday.   "This will be possible without tests or quarantine" starting Wednesday, he added in a message posted on Twitter.   The Czech Republic and Slovakia formed a single country until 1993. Babis himself was born in the Slovak capital of Bratislava.

Both countries have fared well in the current pandemic, with Slovakia posting the lowest death toll per capita in the EU and the Czech Republic keeping its COVID-19 figures down as well.   The Czech government will also open border crossings with Austria and Germany on Tuesday but will still require negative COVID-19 tests from those entering the country.   "We have negotiated similar conditions on the other side of the border with our German and Austrian colleagues," Interior Minister Jan Hamacek said.   The interior ministry said blanket border checks would be replaced by random ones and added it would still not allow tourists into the country.

Czech Health Minister Adam Vojtech said the government was working on other measures to ease the travel restrictions adopted in mid-March.   "We would like to introduce them next week," he added.   Vojtech said EU citizens could now come to the Czech Republic "on business or to visit their family for a maximum of 72 hours if they submit a negative coronavirus test."

The country is also accessible to non-EU citizens who do seasonal jobs there, on condition they have tested negative.   Czech restaurants, bars, hotels, castles, zoos and swimming pools have been open since Monday, when the government lifted many anti-virus measures.   Czechs also no longer have to wear face masks outside their homes, except in shops and on public transport.
Date: Mon, 25 May 2020 17:45:38 +0200 (METDST)
By Shafiqul ALAM

Dhaka, May 25, 2020 (AFP) - Some 15,000 Rohingya refugees are now under coronavirus quarantine in Bangladesh's vast camps, officials said Monday, as the number of confirmed infections rose to 29.   Health experts have long warned that the virus could race through the cramped settlements, housing almost a million Muslims who fled violence in Myanmar, and officials had restricted movement to the area in April.

Despite this, the first cases in the camps were detected in mid-May.   "None of the infections are critical. Most hardly show any symptoms. Still we have brought them in isolation centres and quarantined their families," Toha Bhuiyan, a senior health official in the surrounding Cox's Bazar area told AFP.   He said narrow roads to three districts of the camps -- where the majority of the infections were detected -- have been blocked off by authorities.

The 15,000 Rohingya inside these so-called blocks faced further restrictions on their movement, he said.   It comes as charity workers expressed fears over being infected in the camps as they worked without adequate protection.   Two of the areas under isolation are in Kutupalong camp, home to roughly 600,000 Rohingya.   "We are trying to scale up testing as fast as possible to make sure that we can trace out all the infected people and their contacts," Bhuiyan said.

Seven isolation centres with the capacity to treat more than 700 COVID-19 patients have been prepared, he said.   Officials hope to have just under 2,000 ready by the end of May, he added.   Mahbubur Rahman, the chief health official of Cox's Bazar, said authorities hoped this week they would double the number of tests being performed daily from 188.   He said further entry restrictions have been imposed on the camp, with a 14 day quarantine in place for anyone visiting from Dhaka.   "We are very worried because the Rohingya camps are very densely populated. We suspect community transmission (of the virus) has already begun," Rahman told AFP.

- 'Very little awareness' -
Bangladesh on Monday notched up a record single-day spike in coronavirus cases, with 1,975 new infections, taking the toll to 35,585 cases and 501 deaths.   In early April authorities imposed a complete lockdown on Cox's Bazar district -- home to 3.4 million people including the refugees -- after a number of infections.

But a charity worker with one of the many aid organisations active in the camps said Monday he and many others were "very worried".   "Fear and panic has gripped aid workers because many of us were forced to work without much protection," he told AFP without wishing to be named.   "Social distancing is almost impossible in the camps. There is very little awareness about COVID-19 disease among the refugees, despite efforts by aid agencies."

The lack of information is exacerbated by local authorities having cut off access to the internet in September to combat, they said, drug traffickers and other criminals.   More than 740,000 Rohingya fled a brutal 2017 military crackdown in Myanmar to Cox's Bazar, where around 200,000 refugees were already living.
Date: Mon, 25 May 2020 15:25:38 +0200 (METDST)

Antananarivo, May 25, 2020 (AFP) - Madagascar's government has announced it will dispatch troops and doctors to an eastern town after several bodies were found in the streets and where two people died from the novel coronavirus.   Madagascar's cabinet held a special meeting on Sunday to discuss the situation in Toamasina, the country's second largest city.   The Indian Ocean island nation has registered 527 infections and two deaths, both in Toamasina.

Since Thursday, more than 120 new cases were confirmed, and several bodies were found in the city's streets though the cause of death was not clear.   "Doctors must carry out thorough examinations to see if these deaths are caused by another illness (...) or if they are really due to severe acute respiratory problems which is the critical form of COVID-19," Professor Hanta Marie Danielle Vololontiana, spokesperson for the government's virus taskforce, said in a national broadcast on Sunday.   The government will send 150 soldiers to reinforce Toamasina, maintain order and enforce measures against the coronavirus such as mask wearing and social distancing.

The cabinet also fired Toamasina's prefect without providing any explanation.    A team was also ordered to distribute a drink based on artemisia, a plant recognised as a treatment against malaria, which the Malagasy authorities claim cures COVID-19.    The potential benefits of this herbal tea, called Covid-Organics, have not been validated by any scientific study.    The cabinet has also announced an investigation into the death of a doctor in Toamasina. According to local press, the victim was hospitalised after contracting COVID-19 and was found dead hanged in his room on Sunday morning.
Date: Mon, 25 May 2020 09:20:17 +0200 (METDST)
By Bhuvan Bagga with Indranil Mukherjee in Mumbai

New Delhi, May 25, 2020 (AFP) - Domestic flights resumed in India on Monday even as coronavirus cases surge, while confusion about quarantine rules prompted jitters among passengers and the cancellation of dozens of planes.   India had halted all flights within the country, and departing and leaving for abroad, in late March as it sought to stop the spread of coronavirus with the world's largest lockdown.   But desperate to get Asia's third-largest economy moving again, the government announced last week that around 1,050 daily flights -- a third of the usual capacity -- would resume on Monday.

Aviation Minister Hardeep Singh Puri said strict rules would include mandatory mask-wearing and thermal screenings, although middle seats on the aircraft would not be kept empty.   The announcement reportedly caught airlines and state authorities off-guard, with several local governments announcing that passengers would have to go into quarantine for two weeks on arrival.   Maharashtra, the Indian state with the highest number of coronavirus cases, capped at 50 the number of departures and arrivals in and out of its capital Mumbai.

Airlines scrapped dozens of flights on Monday while hundreds of passengers cancelled their bookings, reports said.   The NDTV news channel said 82 flights to and from New Delhi had been cancelled and nine at Bangalore airport.   Other flights from cities including infection hotspots Mumbai and Chennai were struck off, many at short notice, reports said.   At Mumbai airport social distancing was forgotten as irate passengers harangued staff after their flights were cancelled at the last minute.

- 'Really scary' -
At New Delhi airport, hundreds of people anxious to get home but apprehensive about the risks queued from before dawn -- all wearing masks and standing at least one metre (three feet) apart.   Security personnel behind plastic screens verified check-in documents and that passengers had the government contact tracing app, Aarogya Setu, on their phones.

"While I'm looking forward (to flying home), the idea of flying is really scary," student Gladia Laipubam told AFP as she stood in line.   "Anything can happen. It's very risky. I don't really know when I'll be able to come back to Delhi now. There is no clarity from the university too at this time."   One female airline employee wearing gloves, a mask and a protective face shield said she and many other colleagues felt "very nervous" about starting work again.   "Dealing with so many people at this time is so risky. I must have interacted with at least 200 people since this morning," she told AFP, not wishing to be named.

Cabin crew on the planes had to wear full protective suits with masks, plastic visors and blue rubber gloves, and many were also confused about the rules, the Press Trust of India reported.   "There is no clarity on whether I need to go into home quarantine for 14 days after returning to my base or show up for duty on Monday," one pilot told PTI.   New coronavirus cases in India crossed 6,000 for the third consecutive day on Sunday, surging to a record single-day spike of 6,767 infections.   The country has recorded almost 140,000 cases and over 4,000 deaths.   Singh has said that international flights could resume in June, although dozens of special flights have in recent weeks brought back some of the hundreds of thousands of Indians stuck abroad.
Date: Fri, 22 May 2020 11:02:28 +0200 (METDST)

Suva, Fiji, May 22, 2020 (AFP) - A huge fire at one of Suva's largest markets blanketed the Fijian capital in thick smoke before it was brought under control Friday, firefighters said.   The blaze engulfed the Suva Flea Market, a major tourist attraction near the waterfront, sending plumes of acrid black smoke into the air.   The National Fire Authority said an adjoining shop was also badly damaged but there were no reports of injuries.   "It's been stopped now and no one was injured but that's all we can say at the moment," a spokesman told AFP.   The said the cause of the fire was being investigated.